Why do kids love watching Marvel movies so much?
Is it not because these parallel universes of “real” superheroes allow children to imagine the world as it could be? In films from Captain America and Iron Man to Daredevil and everything in between, we see a world where the weak can become strong, where good fights evil and wins, and where justice prevails.
But now a new movie has been added to the Marvel Universe, and the dreams and hopes that it offers are radically different from anything we’ve seen thus far. Black Panther imagines a new form of good and a new form of justice. Here, we see a world that includes a non-colonized African country, an ethnic group (i.e., Wakandans) that not only comprises “the good guys,” but is also powerful, cool and beautiful, and a vision of racial solidarity.
For Caucasian and minority children alike, this is a must-see movie because it offers wonderful opportunities for conversations on race, race relations (including colonization) and reconciliation. This film may not be suitable for young children because of the action and violence, but for older elementary and above, this film provides a useful platform to engage with some weighty issues.
I know that not everyone feels adept at talking about race, and certainly, I’m not saying that you should be able to give your kid a post-film lecture on the history of Black America. However, I do think that the following list of questions could help kick-start a productive conversation with your child, and at the very least get them thinking on the topic:
- Part of what makes Wakanda such a powerful and technologically-advanced African country is the fact that it is never colonized. What do you think Africa would be like today if it had never been colonized? How do you think the poverty in certain African countries today is connected to its colonial past?
- Black Panther has blazed a new path by starring an all-black cast with both the heroes and villains cast as “African.” In what ways are these actors/actresses different from other superheroes in the Marvel Universe? And what ethnic/racial/cultural stereotypes do you think the film is trying to challenge or break with this cast?
- The scene where T’Challa (i.e. the Black Panther) becomes king is an important one in the film. As he stands at the foot of a waterfall, he looks up to see all the tribes of Wakanda united and rejoicing at his coronation. It’s a powerful symbol of unity and one that many viewers are raving about. Why do you think this moment of united peoples is so important to minorities watching this film? What message is it trying to convey?
- This film also wrestles with the cold and terrible history of oppression in our own country. The two main figures in this film – T’Challa and Erik Killmonger – represent the two dominant voices on the subject, not just in the black community, but of minorities worldwide on how to respond to oppression: the former through, first, escape and later humanitarian aid; the latter through violent protest. It’s important to understand both perspectives: First, why does Killmonger feel the way he does, and how could you empathize with him? Second, why does the film validate T’Challa’s approach instead?
There are one million more questions running through my brain right now, but I’ll spare you the rest. I guarantee you that most elementary kids have not thought about the questions I just listed above. And, like I said, you yourself may not have all the answers either. But the more we can talk about these things, the more sensitivity we can cultivate in our children (and by extension ourselves) on the issues of race that Black Panther seeks to address.